By Alison Taylor
It was a turnout of the usual, familiar faces Saturday for the first town hall meeting in Whistler in roughly five years.
About 70 community members took the opportunity to participate in a series of roundtable discussions with local leaders for an informal conversation about what’s on their mind.
As it turns out, there’s quite a lot on their minds and it runs the gamut, from specific concerns about the municipality’s new logo-wear line and the plans for Lakeside Park to the more global issues of accountability and communications from the hall.
“I think it’s a good step to get those meetings going again,” said local business owner Scott Carrell. “I’m very excited that they’re going again because I felt that it was a bit of a ‘closed shop’ there.”
And while no issues were solved during the two and half hour meeting, it gave the community a chance to air grievances, voice concerns, meet council, and get clarity on some top-of-mind issues.
Local business owner Wayne Katz didn’t have anything in particular of concern, apart from the negative vibe around town, but he said it’s important to attend meetings like these in order to be in the loop.
“I can’t yell at council unless I’m well-informed,” he said.
Any successful business owner he said needs to ask questions and be aware of what’s going on in the community.
Council members and other community stakeholders moved every 10 minutes to a different table of participants — a format made successful by WORCA in the 2002 municipal election — which allowed for informal discussions.
While interesting because it gave each table time with council members and representatives from the chamber of commerce and Tourism Whistler, Sara Jennings said it would have been nicer to spend a little longer with councillors, in the format of a Dialogue Café, or a moderated, longer conversation.
“There just wasn’t enough time to discuss things,” she said.
At the same time she recognized the format was better suited to people who may be intimidated speaking in a larger crowd.
“Different things work for different people,” she said.
A short question and answer session followed the roundtable discussions.
Jorge Alvarez of Toad Hall Studios was disappointed in that portion of the meeting because it didn’t allow for any debate.
He went to the meeting with specific questions, at the heart of which was the issue of accountability at municipal hall.
He didn’t get the answers to his specific questions, which included a request to know how much money the department of strategic alliances and marketing has made. That department is responsible for driving business deals, such as the new municipal logo-wear line.
“I never got an answer,” said Alvarez.
At the same time, he was impressed council and staff took the time for the town hall meeting.
“I do admire them for an attempt,” he said.
“It is a step in the right direction. At least they’re making the effort.”
Anne Townley said the meeting also gave her the chance to see councillors up close and personal, beyond what she sees at election time. It was a chance to engage them in an informal, relaxed setting and get a feel for who they really are.
She said future meetings will get more of a turn out if the community sees there’s value in it.
This week council said they are committed to answering the questions brought up at the meeting.
“The onus is now on us,” said Councillor Bob Lorriman.
“We will follow up… Then people will see that, the answer might not be what they want, but at least they do have a voice and we are listening.”
Overall, they were no hot button issues on Whistler’s mind and feedback on the whole was positive.
Council is planning to have another town hall meeting in the spring.